"Everything I do is a way of saying
thanks to those who showed me
kindness when I needed it."
Betty Chinn is a woman who exemplifies how one person can touch the lives of hundreds of people whom the rest of the world has forgotten. Her purpose is simple: to show the homeless who live in her hometown of Eureka love, comfort and basic humanity.
Every morning before dawn, she loads up her catering truck with an urn of hot coffee, piles on the doughnuts and heads out to make her deliveries. Hers is a special clientele: the homeless, the disenfranchised, the forgotten. They are often mentally ill, substance abusers, teenage runaways or veterans. They do not seek out shelters or come in from the cold; they prefer to hide. They live under the railroad, under bridges or in the bushes. At the moment they range in age from age 3 to age 82, but she's seen them younger and older. Betty is one of the few people in their fearful world they have come to trust. No judgment, no lecture; just a cup of coffee and a taste of humanity to help them get through the day.
As she feeds them breakfast, Betty talks to them, and finds out what their particular need may be for the day. If they have to call a parent to let them know they are alive, she arranges a phone card. If they need to wash clothes, she gets them a voucher for the local laundromat. If they need clothes or a blanket or a tent, she'll find someone to donate the items. If they are veterans, she tries to arrange for them to get benefits. If they want a shower, she'll drive them to the apartment of friends who will let them shower. And if the weather is particularly extreme, she will ask friends to donate a motel room to get a mother and her children out of the storm.
And after she does all that, she goes back home, where she turns her kitchen into a staging area for the real work of the day: feeding dinner to roughly 200 people on the streets. Her husband, a retired physics professor, loads the containers into the catering truck, and off she goes, taking hot food and a whole lot of love to those who would otherwise go without nourishment for either body or soul. This is what Betty has done from the day she got her first paycheck in America working at her children's school. This is what she has done almost every day, twice a day, for over twenty years.
Betty Chinn's daily actions are her expression of gratitude to the country that welcomed her. What motivates her to go out twice a day, every day of the year is her own history. She was born in China in the days when the Communists persecuted and tortured intellectuals who did not follow Mao's ways. Her parents, both successful physicians, were Communist targets. Betty's father fled and her mother was imprisoned, leaving Betty and her siblings out on the street. The shock and trauma of homelessness, separation from her parents and the perils of escaping her dire straits were too much for Betty and she went mute. But she was able to escape from China and found her way to Eureka. There she met her husband and had two sons of whom she is extremely proud. It was also in California that she would find her voice and recover her ability to speak. Her first English lessons came from watching Sesame Street.
Betty Chinn has not started a grand organization nor does she have a big staff working for her. Instead what she has done for over 20 years is wake up every day, load up her truck and go in search of those who need food, a blanket or simply human contact. Rain or shine, holidays and weekends, Betty Chinn finds lost souls and reminds them that they are part of a human family. In the true spirit of Minerva, she is a warrior. She fights for humanity, bestows a touch of grace on those whose lives are rarely touched, and providesdignity for those who can't search it out for themselves.